About Teaching Your Dog to Hold It

The Third Concept of Housebreaking Your Puppy

Don't expect your dog to hold it longer than you could.

There are few things in life more frustrating than trying to get your puppy to go potty when she just went ten minutes ago! The concept of teaching your puppy to ‘hold it’ is often the missing link in housebreaking attempts.

A good rule of thumb is to please do not expect your puppy to hold it for longer than you could! An even better rule of thumb may be to not expect your puppy to hold it for longer than a four-year-old child could do so! It would be great if we could all take ‘puppy leave’ to stay home to housetrain our new puppies. Since that is not likely, work smart with the time that you have with your puppy.  If your puppy will be confined for longer than 4 hours at a time, consider giving her access to an indoor potty area during confinement.

The younger your puppy is, the more often she will need to eliminate. Maturity plays a part in housetraining puppies just like it does in potty training children. You can judge your puppy’s maturity by noticing how many ‘motion driven’ accidents your puppy has, as compared to ‘intention driven’. Motion driven accidents happen as your puppy is romping through the house, squats, then keeps running. Keep in mind that since you didn’t know your puppy was going to go and she didn’t know she was going to go, there is no reason to try to redirect motion driven accidents. Instead, concentrate your redirection efforts on ‘intention driven’ accidents. A dog can’t help motion driven accidents, as motion stimulates the bowels. But together, you can avoid intention driven accidents.

Using your leash in the house is a great way to help your puppy learn to hold it! If you can safely allow your puppy to drag the leash remember to keep her in the room where you are, in your line of visual sight. If you can’t do this, then tether the pup’s leash to you. It is better to tether the pup to you than to tie to her to an object. I know that if you have never used a leash in the house the idea may sound absurd to you! After trying this method, you will wonder how you lived with the puppy before using the leash in this way.

Confinement – Your Puppy’s Space

Confinement is the best way to teach your puppy to ‘hold it’. I define confinement as the largest space your puppy will keep clean and not chew up.

Before deciding on your method of confinement consider these things:

  1. Length of time your puppy will be confined
  2. The layout of your home
  3. The size of your puppy
  4. The age of your puppy

The layout of your home often dictates your confinement options. It is easier to put an exercise pen in a house than a studio apartment! Since I am not standing in your home you will have to decide what type of confinement to use for your puppy.

Kennel Crates

It is tempting to buy a kennel crate big enough for your St. Bernard puppy to use when grown.  Seems like the practical solution, doesn’t it? However, the extra space now might tempt your puppy to urinate on one side of the crate and sleep on the other side. You can find many crates that do have dividers you can use to temporarily make the space smaller. Experiment with the size of your confinement. Remember to use the largest space your puppy still keep clean and not chew up.

There are three different types of kennel crates to choose from:

  1. Open wire crates
  2. Airline kennels
  3. Soft-sided crates

While soft -sided crates are attractive and comfortable, keep in mind that your puppy can chew through them! Airline kennels are difficult for puppies to manage to get out of. These crates were designed to keep animals safe during travel. Open wire crates allow your puppy to see what is going on around her. When investing in an open wire crate, I recommend you choose one that easily folds up. Experiment with these three styles to determine which one your puppy prefers! I personally use open wire crates for my own puppies.

Your puppy will let you know how she handles comfort items in her crate. Some pups do fine with beds, blankets, toys, and towels. Some pups chew them up, which can be dangerous for the puppy if she eats the pieces. Some pups will urinate on the towel, move it to the corner, and sleep on the dry surface. Experiment with your puppy to see what works for her. You might want to avoid putting anything expensive or particularly messy in her crate with her until you know how she will react.

Also, consider food and water - your Chihuahua puppy might need food in her crate while the St. Bernard probably does not. Please consult your veterinarian before you decide to leave food in your puppy’s crate. As for water, use whatever your puppy is comfortable with. I personally use water bottles attached to the outside of the crate instead of water bowls in the crate.


There are also alternatives to using kennel crates, such as baby gates or exercise pens. Your puppy will be happier confined in the bathroom with a baby gate instead of closing the bathroom door. Some puppies do just fine baby gated in the kitchen. Again, experiment with your puppy! Keep in mind that confinement is the largest space your puppy will keep clean and not chew up. While you don’t want to squish her into a shoebox, you also don’t want to give her the whole house until you know how she will act. Indoor exercise pens are the perfect way to give your puppy more room when you have to leave her for longer than 4 hours. When using an exercise pen, place her crate in one corner of the pen with the door open, her water in another corner, and her dog litter box or wee-wee pad frame in another corner. This will help her make the choice of the pads instead of her crate or water bowl.

“But I thought puppies wouldn’t soil their personal space?”

How often have you heard that puppies do not soil their confinement area? Well… not all puppies got that memo! There are pups that do not mind soiling their crate at all. If you live with one of these puppies, there is hope! Make this pup’s confinement area bigger instead of smaller. Use the exercise pen configuration described above. You can restore a puppy’s cleanliness instincts by giving her the choice of a clean crate with the door open, water bowl, or pad area. It takes patience and understanding to train this puppy. Remember that punishment and frustration will not help!